Lady Gaga

Now on his third in a series of articles examining the brilliant music theory behind ubiquitous pop hits, Owen Pallett might just have a brilliant recurring column in the works. Alas, Pallett says this latest installment will be his last. Beginning with an article analyzing through music theory the brilliance of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” he then turned that piece’s brief aside about Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” into an even better article. Now he takes on Lady Gaga and examines her genius as he sees it. Though the article focuses on “Bad Romance” in particular, a big part of Pallett’s argument addresses complaints that Gaga’s songs all sound pretty much the same. He not only agrees with that but reinforces it by examining the similar structures of her songs. Then (and this is where it gets really good) he argues that the uniformity (or “monomania” as Pallett elegantly puts it) is a big part of why her music is genius.

Some poppets may take this consistency of tone to be indicative of a “lack of creativity” on Gaga’s end. Me, I see it as strong branding. Yes, these seven singles are mechanically indistinguishable, but I hear L-A-D-Y on the left, G-A-G-A on the right, knuckles in your face, your inner ear is branded. Gaga is a fighter, not a lover.

I like this monomania, too, as it definitively establishes Gaga’s own voice as a songwriter. She works with co-writers, as do most pop singer-songwriters, but her own writing voice is indelible. I respect performing artists and songwriters equally, but I extend extra good will to those artists who take on both roles. This is not because of any desire for “authenticity of authorship,” but because I, as an audience member, like superheroes.

Read the whole article via Slate. And if that’s not enough to make you love Pallett, be sure to hear some of the incredible music he’s been putting out so far this year in anticipation of his upcoming album In Conflict.

In Conflict is out 5/13 via Domino.

Comments (5)
  1. Finally he picked a song that’s actually genius! The idea of these is really cool, which makes it all the more puzzling that the first 2 songs he picked to analyze were really boring/musically uninteresting. I hope he does more of these, and sticks to songs that are actually good.

  2. Is there anything he doesn’t find amazing for one reason or another? It’s great because it follows a simple formula? WOW

    I haven’t read this one but in the others, I feel like he talks about one element (lack of a I chord for Katy Perry or the ambiguous key for Daft Punk) then just defends it like any music journalist with no particular knowledge of musical theory would.

    • I don’t think that’s quite what’s going on here. If the idea of these pieces is to bring music theory into popular music criticism, then it behooves him to pick songs that everyone will be familiar with, the better to illustrate the analysis.

      • I have no problem with his taking on big hits. I mean, I love Get Lucky as much as the next guy, but his music theory justifications seem a little thin. I just went back and read the Gaga piece and it pretty much says that she’s great because all of her hits (written with whoever her partner is) only do the absolute most basic, simple and predictable things but she’s got one song, Bad Romance, that does some other pretty basic things that you would expect to hear in simple pop songs but it’s amazing to hear them in a Lady Gaga song because none of her other 6 hits have ever deviated from THE MOST BASIC choices possible.

  3. I dunno, I’m not buying all these music theory deconstructions he’s doing. There’s not really much genius behind any of these songs, they just happened at the right time and were marketed well. It seems like he’s hopping on the “high-on-life-love-everything” bandwagon that’s en vogue these days- one of the guys from Tokyo Police Club just wrote an article similar in tone to these. The whole monogenre thing is sort of exhausting now. Like, at this point I don’t think any collaboration/cover/remix would be surprising anymore.

    But, back to the point- if Pallett is so thoroughly enamored with the pop writing of these songs, why isn’t he trying to emulate them and create a breakthrough moment for himself? Plenty of indie artists have done it recently, but from the sound of “The Riverbed” he’s not really pushing for Top 40 status. Like, if he knows the structure and theory, why not combine his indie sensibilities and some pop sheen into a genuine hit?

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